Hundreds of unionized nurses wearing scrubs gathered Thursday outside the Silicon Valley home of GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman to protest her proposals for the state, which they say will hurt working people.
Dozens of police officers descended on the leafy streets surrounding Whitman's two-story colonial home in Atherton. The protesters chanted "We're going to beat back the Whitman attack" as an airplane paid by the nurses union circled overhead, trailing a banner that read, "Nurses say no to Whitman."
The display was part of an escalating feud between Whitman and California Nurses Association, which has trailed the former eBay CEO at her campaign events with an actress dressed as "Queen Meg." The union says Whitman, a billionaire who has never before run for public office, is trying to buy the governor's race by spending tens of millions of dollars from her personal fortune.
The "Queen Meg" character made an appearance Thursday, standing in front of Whitman's white picket fence surrounded by two tuxedo-wearing bodyguards with sashes identifying them as "Goldman" and "Sachs." It was a reference to Whitman's time serving on the Goldman board, during which she was paid $475,000, and criticism that she benefited from a questionable practice in which executives whose companies did business with Goldman were given preferential access to stocks.
Jen Lendl, a 38-year-old nurse at Kaiser-Oakland, said she feels as if Whitman is attacking hardworking Californians.
"Our pensions, our union rights, were threatened," said Lendl. "We need to stand up and fight this person."
Whitman was not home Thursday. Instead, she had a campaign event at a flashlight-manufacturing company in the inland Southern California city of Ontario.
Her campaign spokeswoman, Sarah Pompei, responded to the protest by questioning whether rank-and-file nurses agreed with the union's tactics.
"The radical leadership of the California Nurses Association has decided to spend untold thousands of dollars from members' dues on a stunt. Have they surveyed their membership to ask whether they agree with the expenditure? How many nurses are being forced to use sick days to attend this political theater?" Pompei said in a statement.
She said Whitman is making an effort to describe her positions directly to nurses. The former eBay CEO has mailed letters and fliers to nurses' homes, urging them not to believe their Democratically aligned union leaders.
The nurses association and other unions support her Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jerry Brown.
Nurses attending Thursday's protest said they planned to send the mailers back to the Whitman campaign with letters explaining why they do not support her.